To be a table tennis umpire is by no means easy. At pivotal moments in games, with a keen sense of detail and an even-keeled head for the rules and regulations, these extraordinary officials must make difficult, pivotal decisions (e.g. was that a net/edge ball, or did the server toss the ball vertically at least 6 inches in the air?) that could affect the whole course of the match. Sometimes you’ll see only a few of these judicious warriors at smaller events, other times, such as in the NCTTA college champs, or Joola National Teams Tournament, you’ll experience a plethora of them working efficiently.
You may even have seen, for example, a newly promoted International Umpire (IU) by the name of Jorge Vanegas. Vanegas works tirelessly, on and off the court. I mentioned him in a previous piece on the World Veterans Championships at Broward TTC in Fort Lauderdale, Fl, where he not only participated as an umpire but also helped with the setup and breakdown of the venue. He has an umpiring career spanning more than 30 years, commencing in his native Colombia when he was around 15.
Vanegas’s journey to becoming an IU was marked by trials and tribulations but ultimately culminated in a fifth nomination being the charm to obtaining his dream.
(The following quotations are translations from Spanish to English by the writer of this article with the interviewee’s permission).
Vanegas notes, “The requirements are different depending on the country… supposedly you take 8 years to be an IU, but some countries push them faster than others… I had to pass through the requirements of my country [Colombia] and through those of here….”
Vanegas is now the highest level of Umpire that you can be; USATT is always looking for more prospective officials to join the stellar squad. According to the USATT officials page website, (https://www.teamusa.org/usa-table-tennis/coaches-and-officials/referee-and-umpire-information) to try out for the entry-level club umpire position, some of the stipulations are paying a $10 fee and doing an open book test with getting 75% or more correct on the written exam. After club level is regional ($20 testing fee), and after that is national (no fee). The stakes get higher if you fail the exams at the advanced levels because you must wait a much longer period of time before being allowed to retake the exams.
As you can see it’s been quite an uphill battle for Vanegas, as he had to wait to first be nominated for the position of International Umpire, and then hope to pass the exam.
I had to ask Vanegas about what he likes the most about umpiring matches. And his answer did not disappoint:
“What I enjoy the most is being able to interact in a more direct manner with the feeling and existence of the player within the playing area; to experience not only the excitement that he/she brings to a game, rather to also be a part of it, offering balance when it is necessary through the application of our sport’s rules.”
Congratulations to IU Jorge Vanegas for such a well-deserved accomplishment, and we look forward to seeing you on the highest stage officiating in the future!